Africa’s energy landscape is evolving, driven by a growing demand for reliable and sustainable power sources. As African nations grapple with energy deficits and power outages that hinder industrial growth, they are exploring various options to diversify their energy mix. Among these options, nuclear power, hydroelectricity, and solar energy are gaining prominence, with Russia playing a significant role in advancing nuclear technology on the continent.
Russia’s State Energy Corporation, Rosatom, has taken a keen interest in Africa’s energy sector. With bilateral agreements in place with nearly 20 African countries, Rosatom is actively contributing to the development of nuclear power infrastructure on the continent. One of its flagship projects is the El Dabaa Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) in Egypt, which involves the construction of four 1,200 MW generating units with VVER-1200 reactors. This ambitious project, with a total cost of up to US$30 billion, is expected to be completed by 2028-2029, significantly boosting Egypt’s energy capacity.
The El Dabaa NPP project underscores the depth of Russia’s commitment to Africa’s energy needs. Rosatom provides not only the technology but also long-term financing arrangements. Under the agreement with Egypt, a Russian loan of US$25 billion, covering 85% of the project’s costs, was secured. Egypt is set to commence payments on the loan, provided at a favorable 3% annual interest rate, from October 2029. The partnership between Russia and African countries extends beyond construction. Rosatom offers support for the training of specialists in Russian educational institutions, ensuring that African nations have the necessary expertise to operate and maintain nuclear facilities. This knowledge transfer is a critical component of sustainable nuclear energy development in Africa.
While nuclear power holds great promise, African nations are also exploring other renewable energy sources. China and India, for instance, have offered solar power solutions to supplement existing energy supplies in Africa. Solar energy is particularly attractive due to the continent’s abundant sunlight. Additionally, hydroelectric power remains a viable option in regions with suitable geographical features. Several African countries have tapped into their hydroelectric potential to generate electricity. These renewable energy sources align with global efforts to combat climate change and reduce carbon emissions.
At the 6th Russian Energy Week Forum in Moscow, Burkina Faso and Mali, both landlocked West African countries, signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with Russia’s Rosatom to collaborate on the construction of nuclear power plants. These agreements reflect the commitment of these nations to address their energy deficits and provide access to electricity for their populations. Burkina Faso, in particular, highlighted its strategic location in the heart of West Africa and the potential to generate energy not only for its citizens but also for the entire subregion.
With only about 20% of the population having access to electricity, Burkina Faso sees small nuclear power plants as a viable solution to its energy challenges.
Mali, with slightly higher electrification rates at 30% to 35%, also recognizes the significance of nuclear energy for its future energy needs. Both countries expressed their interest in harnessing nuclear power for peaceful purposes, emphasizing their commitment to clean and innovative energy solutions. These collaborations with Russia’s Rosatom underscore the importance of exploring innovative nuclear technologies and dispelling old stigmas surrounding nuclear energy. They represent a proactive effort by African nations to secure their energy future and provide reliable electricity to their populations.
Africa’s quest for nuclear energy as a reliable and sustainable power source has gained momentum in recent years, with several countries on the continent exploring the potential benefits of nuclear technology. While the prospects are promising, there are significant challenges and considerations that must be addressed to ensure the successful implementation of nuclear energy programs. Several African countries, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Uganda, Tanzania, and Zambia, are collaborating with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to establish national infrastructure for research reactors. This program aims to provide support and guidance for countries embarking on their nuclear journey, with a focus on research reactors. The milestones approach adopted by the IAEA helps countries progress systematically in developing the necessary infrastructure and capabilities.
The second Russia-Africa Summit, held in St. Petersburg, saw the signing of multiple bilateral and multilateral agreements aimed at strengthening cooperation between Russia and African nations. These agreements cover a wide range of strategic, political, and economic issues of mutual interest. However, despite the presence of Russian companies like Lukoil, Rosneft, and Gazprom in Africa, there is a sense of disappointment among African oil producers regarding the slow pace of Russian investment in the continent’s energy sector. Yaw Osafo-Maafo, Senior Presidential Advisor from Ghana, emphasizes the need to make nuclear energy affordable for widespread adoption in Africa. While nuclear energy offers a dependable and sustainable power source, affordability remains a critical factor. Ensuring that the latest cost-effective technologies are used, avoiding predatory financing, and being cautious of unscrupulous suppliers are essential aspects of making nuclear energy economically viable for African nations.
Ryan Collyer, Regional Vice-President of Rosatom for Sub-Saharan Africa, underscores the complexity and cost associated with nuclear power programs. Building large-scale nuclear reactors involves significant investments in terms of resources, labor, materials, and infrastructure. The development of a nuclear power program requires meticulous planning and preparation, which can take several years to implement. One of the key challenges in nuclear energy development is securing funding, particularly during the construction phase.
Building a nuclear reactor involves a massive workforce, extensive amounts of steel and concrete, and the integration of numerous components and systems. It is a capital-intensive endeavor that demands careful financial planning and execution.
Africa is often described as a continent endowed with abundant natural resources yet facing significant challenges, particularly in the realm of energy. Despite its resource wealth, many African countries grapple with energy poverty, inadequate infrastructure, and limited industrialization. These challenges are often attributed to governance issues and the need for effective public policies to drive sustainable energy development. Russian companies have entered the African energy landscape, aiming to address some of these challenges. Their involvement encompasses various sectors, including oil and gas, nuclear energy, and renewable energy. However, there is a perception among African oil producers that Russian investment in the energy sector has been slower than expected.
Energy is a critical driver of progress across all sectors of society. From powering industries to providing essential services like healthcare and education, reliable energy sources are essential for socio-economic development.
Africa, with its young population and abundant resources, has significant energy needs, especially with a projected population increase from 1.4 billion to 2.5 billion by 2050.
Currently, 40% of the continent’s population lacks access to reliable electricity. International cooperation plays a crucial role in addressing Africa’s energy challenges. Organizations like the African Energy Chamber aim to facilitate dialogue and collaboration between African and international partners to attract investment in energy projects. This includes promoting existing partnerships and exploring new collaborations between businesses in Africa and Russia. Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Alexander Novak, highlights the importance of energy cooperation between Russia and African countries. Russia has the potential to drive long-term energy investment and expertise into Africa, helping alleviate energy poverty and harness the continent’s natural resource wealth.
Finally, Africa’s energy challenges are significant, but international cooperation and investment hold the potential to accelerate its energy development. With the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) aiming to boost intra-African trade and economic growth, addressing energy issues becomes paramount. Africa’s geopolitical weight is growing, and addressing energy security and sustainable development is key to realizing its potential and achieving UN Sustainable Development Goals. It is an exciting time for the continent, with opportunities for transformation and growth on the horizon.
Chiara Cacco: Researcher at the University of Siena, Italy.
Dr. Sahibzada Muhammad Usman: Postdoctoral Fellow, Global Engagement Academy, School of Culture and Communication, Shandong University (Weihai). Dr. Usman has participated in various national and international conferences and published 30 research articles in international journals.